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No one should be stopped and searched because of skin colour

AS HOME Secretary Theresa May this week warned of taking further legislative action if the police force fails to curb the number of stop and search which is disproportionately targeted at the black and minority ethnic community, Gavin Barwell, conservative MP in Croydon, one of the areas hard hit in the riots of 2011, backs the move as he feels his party is now listening to the community.

Here he writes exclusively for The Voice on the subject:

In the aftermath of the 2011 England riots, I was inundated with letters and emails from my constituents in Croydon, Surrey expressing anger at what a few hundred people had done to our town.

I was conscious that nearly all of the people who had contacted me were my age or older, so I spent much of my time over the following months visiting schools, colleges and youth groups across Croydon to try to find out what younger people thought. Whereas most older people were basically supportive but felt the police hadn't acted decisively enough, many young people, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds, were hostile to them and felt that a desire to get back at the police was one of the causes of the riots.

The most common reason they gave for this hostility was stop and search. Many said they were stopped nearly every time they went in to Croydon and felt they were targeted simply because of the colour of their skin.

This problem has been around for years. When I was growing up, the Conservative Government of the time was deaf to the issue. In the 1990s, it resisted the overwhelming case for a public inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The black community drew the appropriate conclusion.

Thankfully my party has changed since then. One of my proudest days as an MP was sitting in the House of Commons listening to a Conservative Home Secretary setting out the overwhelming evidence that stop and search was being misused.

In 2013 Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary found that in 27 per cent of the cases they looked at the police did not have reasonable grounds to search people. And official figures showed that if you were from a black or ethnic minority background you were six times more likely to be searched.


HAVING HIS SAY: Conservative MP for Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell

Given that only about 10 per cent of stops resulted in an arrest, this was a waste of police time but worse than that it undermined confidence in the police, denying them vital community intelligence that is so critical to reducing crime.

Theresa May announced a comprehensive plan to reform stop and search. Today all 43 police forces have signed up to the 'Best Use of Stop and Search' scheme. The outcome of all stop and searches are recorded as well as whether there is a connection between the grounds for the search and the outcome.

The use of Section 60 powers has been restricted - it now has to be authorised by chief officers and they have to believe that violence 'will' (rather than 'may' as before) take place. And people are now able to observe stop and search in practice, making the police more accountable to the local communities they serve.

At its peak under the last Labour Government, there were more than 1.5 million stop and searches per year. We've reduced that by a third and crime has fallen at the same time.

We haven't solved the problem, but Home Secretary Theresa May has made it clear that if those numbers don't keep falling, if the stop-to-arrest ratios don't improve, we will take further action.

Stop and search is an important tool but nobody should ever be stopped and searched because of the colour of their skin.

Gavin Barwell is Conservative MP for Croydon Central

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